Fewer people on the streets of New York City during the COVID-19 pandemic has translated into more traffic accidents and deaths, published reports say.
The New York Times says there were 243 traffic fatalities in NYC in 2020, making last year the deadliest year on record since Mayor Bill de Blasio introduced a plan to improve street safety in 2014.
While most people were staying home to avoid exposure to the COVID-19 virus, “drivers who felt cooped up in their homes flocked to wide open streets and sped recklessly down vacant highways,” the New York Times said. “Riders who had not been on a motorcycle in years — or ever — took to roadways. In big cities, late-night drag racing became more popular as other entertainment vanished.”
City-data indicates that motorcycle accident fatalities reached their highest level in over 30 years, and about 60 percent of them involved riders who did not have a valid motorcycle license. Meanwhile, deaths of pedestrians dropped as fewer people walked the streets in places like Midtown Manhattan. Bicyclist deaths remained about the same as in 2019.
The drivers causing accidents were younger drivers who did not have their usual diversions to entertain them and who are more likely to take risks, The Times said, quoting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Their negligence was fueled by increased use of alcohol and drugs to cope with pandemic-related stress, which factored into many crashes.
“Quite frankly, drivers took advantage of the open roads and sped with their vehicles,” Kim Royster, the NYC Police Department’s transportation chief, told The Times.
Older people, who tend to be more cautious drivers, stayed home.
NY Mirrors a National Trend
We first noted that streets emptied by the pandemic were attracting reckless drivers last July. At that point, the National Safety Council (NSC) was citing numbers indicating that while miles driven was down by 40 percent year-over-year, fatality rates per miles driven nationwide were up by 36.6 percent.
The NSC said speeding was the main killer on empty highways. Police in New York said they were aware of the increased speeds and had deployed additional patrols
A Reuters report quoted Harvey Miller, director of the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis at The Ohio State University, who said of the statistics, “What we’re seeing here — the fact that there are less traffic and more speeding — I think that’s evidence that traffic is a great controller of speed.”
In a December report, the NHTSA says a statistical projection of traffic fatalities for the first nine months of 2020 shows that an estimated 28,190 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes. This represents an increase of about 4.6 percent as compared to 26,941 fatalities reported to have occurred in the first 9 months of 2019.
Traffic deaths rose 0.6% during the first quarter of 2020 but fell 1.1% in the second quarter as coronavirus lockdowns restricted movement. Fatalities spiked 13.1% from July through September, the NHTSA said.
“Preliminary data tells us that during the national health emergency, fewer Americans drove, but those who did took more risks and had more fatal crashes,” the federal safety agency said in a letter addressed to the nation’s drivers, according to an Associated Press report.
Early in the pandemic, drivers found open roads and drove faster, Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), told The Associated Press. The behavior continued even as traffic volumes recovered.
The National Safety Council (NSC) said it was discouraged, though unsurprised, by the NHTSA’s report. The NSC’s monthly data show 34,410 motor vehicle deaths nationwide through October 2020, up 7 percent compared to the first 10 months of 2019 despite an 8.8 percent decrease in miles driven year-to-year for the same period.
Through October, New York was among nine states that experienced an increase of more than 80 motor vehicle accidents year-to-year, with 91 more traffic deaths in 2020 than in 2019.
“Vehicle miles traveled have dropped precipitously since the pandemic, but the number of deaths has not followed,” the NSC statement says. “We should be able to show a significant safety benefit from having less traffic. Instead, in the midst of the worst health crisis in more than a century, we are experiencing even deadlier roadways – and motor vehicle crashes have been a persistent public health threat.”
The NSC said it planned to urge President Biden and Transportation Secretary-designate Pete Buttigieg to prioritize roadway safety.
Contact a NYC Car Accident Attorney
The NYC car accident lawyers of David Resnick & Associates, P.C., can help you seek compensation if you have been injured in a car accident caused by a speeding driver or reckless driver. You may be entitled to recover money for your medical bills, lost wages, vehicle damage, and more in an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit.
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